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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 1 - Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Prioritization Procedure for Proposed Road–Rail Grade Separation Projects Along Specific Rail Corridors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25460.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 1 - Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Prioritization Procedure for Proposed Road–Rail Grade Separation Projects Along Specific Rail Corridors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25460.
×
Page 3
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 1 - Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Prioritization Procedure for Proposed Road–Rail Grade Separation Projects Along Specific Rail Corridors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25460.
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2 Introduction 1.1 Need for the Research Project Highways and railways are the primary conveyances that carry the goods produced and consumed by the American economy. In 2015, highways supported the movement of nearly 10.7 billion tons of freight, and railroads moved another 1.6 billion tons; combined, highways and railways moved 75 percent of all domestic freight by tonnage (USDOT 2017a). Both railways and highways are essential in support- ing the U.S. economy, as each mode provides unique service capabilities. Railroads operate across nearly 140,000 miles of track, while total U.S. highway miles exceed 4 million (FHWA, USDOT 2011b). With two extensive networks operating in the same geography, it is no surprise that in the United States, railways and highways intersect more than 200,000 times at crossings. In 2015, there were 129,582 public highway–rail crossings and 80,073 private crossings (FRA 2018). To accommodate higher freight demands on the existing rail system efficiently, trains have become longer and, in many corridors, more frequent. When the request for proposals for this research project was published, many communities in the United States were experiencing significantly higher rail volumes in some corridors related to movements of crude oil from shale fracking. While oil markets have fluctuated and new pipeline capacity has displaced some crude-by-rail movements, in general as the economy grows, so does freight traffic on both railways and highways. Freight tonnage in the United States is projected to increase at about 1.4 percent per year through 2045 (USDOT 2017a). Passenger demands on both road and rail systems are also increasing in many cor- ridors. More traffic on railways and highways results in more frequent conflicts and capacity impacts where the two net- works intersect on the same plane. Historically, railroad–highway grade separation projects have been viewed as primarily a safety enhancement from a funding prospective. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1987 created the Rail–Highway Crossings Program administered by USDOT. Congress authorized the program, often refer- enced as the Section 130 Program, to provide funds for the “elimination of hazards” at public railway–highway crossings: The Section 130 Program has been correlated with a significant decrease in fatalities at railway-highway grade crossings. Since the Program’s inception in 1987 through 2014, for which most recent data is available, fatalities at these crossings have decreased by 57 percent. The overall reductions in fatalities come despite an increase in the vehicle miles traveled on roadways and an increase in the passenger and freight traffic on the railways. . . . The 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) continues the annual set-aside for railway-highway crossing improvements under 23 USC 130(e). The funds are set-aside from the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) appor- tionment. (FHWA, USDOT 2018) In response to growing traffic and congestion problems, states and communities increasingly view grade separation as an option that not only improves safety, but also increases network capacity and enhances livability attributes. The cost of road–rail grade separation projects can vary considerably on the basis of the surrounding environment (rural versus urban), the number of lanes and/or tracks, and the design of the proposed separation. In 2014, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (DOT) conducted a statewide evaluation of grade crossing needs. Of 15 priority grade separation projects identified, the cost of grade separation projects ranged from $10 million to nearly $50 million: “In general, to install a grade separation on a rural, two-lane road costs $10 to 15 million. Urbanized areas and multiple-lane construction are usually more expensive” (Minnesota DOT 2014). In response to increasing requests from state and local offi- cials for infrastructure investments that can improve safety and reduce congestion, Congress has authorized a number of federal funding programs that include highway–railway grade separations as eligible projects, including the following: • Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recov- ery (TIGER). TIGER discretionary grants have supported capital projects that repair bridges or improve infrastructure C H A P T E R 1

3 to a state of good repair; projects that implement safety improvements to reduce fatalities and serious injuries, including improving grade crossings or providing shorter or more direct access to critical health services; projects that connect communities and people to jobs, services, and education; and projects that anchor economic revitaliza- tion and job growth in communities (USDOT 2017b). • Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA). Eligible projects for INFRA grants are highway freight projects carried out on the National Highway Freight Network (23 U.S.C. 167); highway or bridge projects carried out on the National Highway System, including projects that add capacity on the Interstate system to improve mobility or projects in a national scenic area; and railway–highway grade crossing or grade separation projects (USDOT 2018). Successful grant applications for both TIGER and INFRA programs must do a good job of meeting multiple crite- ria found in the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO). When state and local entities are seeking project funding through the federal grant process, it is particularly important that anticipated project outcomes align as completely as pos- sible with the NOFO criteria. For example, the NOFO for the TIGER Grant program for 2017 (Federal Register 2017a) provided the following merit criteria that applicants should address: • Safety, • State of good repair, • Economic competitiveness, • Environmental sustainability, and • Livability. The NOFO states, “The Department encourages applicants to either address each criterion or expressly state that the proj- ect does not address the criterion” (Federal Register 2017b). Currently, the Railroad-Highway Grade Crossing Handbook (FHWA, USDOT 2007) does not address many of these criteria. 1.2 Research Objectives As outlined in the request for proposals, the research objec- tives for National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Project 25-50 were 1. A prioritization procedure for transportation practitio- ners to rank road–rail grade separations within specific rail corridors and 2. A communication toolkit to inform and convey to stake- holders and decision-makers the relative objective mer- its of individual road–rail separation projects within corridors. The historic focus on making road–rail grade separation investment decisions was based almost solely on the evalu- ation of safety. The research approach undertaken for the project sought to expand the evaluation criteria to examine a diverse range of factors that may contribute to improv- ing the investment decision process, while providing stake- holders with an evaluation methodology that may provide utility when federal funding assistance is sought. 1.3 Research Questions and Project Approach The work plan for completing the research was organized around answering the following questions: 1. How do state and local governments currently make deci- sions about grade crossing separations? 2. What data sources do state and local planners use when evaluating grade crossing separation investments? 3. For the purpose of ranking potential grade separation projects within a rail corridor, how should a “corridor” be defined? 4. How do other countries evaluate and prioritize grade crossing projects when making investment decisions? 5. If the research identifies additional evaluation criteria that can add value when making grade crossing separation investment decisions, can the necessary data and method- ology be encapsulated in a tool that makes it easy for novice planners to use for ranking grade separations within a rail corridor? The research plan for NCHRP Project 25-50 was executed in two phases. In Phase 1, the tasks undertaken to answer the above questions included a literature review of meth- ods, data, and existing tools used in the United States and abroad to evaluate and/or rank road–rail grade separations. The research team also conducted a survey of state and local planners involved in making grade crossing separation deci- sions to determine current methods and data used. The research team relied on survey respondents and others to solicit potential rail corridors that could be used to conduct beta tests of the grade crossing evaluation tool. In Phase 2, the research team developed the criteria and procedures for expanding criteria for grade separation invest- ment. These criteria and procedures were then programmed into a spreadsheet model and used by nonproject personnel to test the ease of use and the utility of the model. Finally, the research team documented the process and developed a user guide. Following the completion of the literature review and sur- vey of state and local planners, the research team presented

4 the proposed evaluation factors in an interim report and then met with a NCHRP project panel. During the meeting, the proposed evaluation methodology was discussed, and spe- cific evaluation factors were enhanced to produce a final draft approach. The research team also presented five corridor case studies and requested the panel’s opinion in narrowing the candidate corridors to two to be used to beta test the railroad crossing assessment tool (RCAT). In the original work plan, the proposed RCAT was presented as a web-based applica- tion. However, because of concerns about finding an appro- priate party to host a web-based RCAT, the project panel requested that the research team consider developing the tool as a stand-alone spreadsheet. The research team agreed to proceed with the creation of a spreadsheet model during Phase 2 of the research. In Phase 2 the research team programmed the evaluation factors that had been approved by the project panel into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. Once the initial spreadsheet tool was completed, members of the research team conducted a series of alpha tests to determine the vigor of the tool. After initial problems were corrected, two independent beta tests were conducted with the two case study corridors selected by the project panel. Results of the beta tests were summarized in a second interim report, and problems were corrected. After completing RCAT programming, the research team assembled the user’s toolkit and the final report.

Next: Chapter 2 - Overview of Current Railroad Highway Grade Crossing Separation Evaluation »
Prioritization Procedure for Proposed Road–Rail Grade Separation Projects Along Specific Rail Corridors Get This Book
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TRB’s National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Research Report 901: Prioritization Procedure for Proposed Road–Rail Grade Separation Projects Along Specific Rail Corridors is designed to assist state and local planners in making prioritization and investment decisions for road–rail at-grade crossing separations.

The report provides a comprehensive means of comparing similar project alternatives within a specific rail corridor. Planning factors include economic, environmental, and community livability factors to support a robust decision process for making grade separation decisions.

NCHRP Report 901 also includes railroad crossing assessment tool (RCAT), a multicriteria evaluation tool that considers safety, economic, environmental, and community livability factors in a set of linked Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.

The report also includes a communications toolkit to help inform and convey to stakeholders and decision makers the relative objective merits of individual road–rail separation projects within corridors.

The assessment tool, communications toolkit, and user guide are published in electric only format as Appendix C - The RCAT User Guide, and Appendix D - The RCAT Toolkit and Templates.

During the past decade, railroad traffic has fluctuated in a number of key markets; coal traffic has declined, while other markets such as petroleum and intermodal have grown. Changing markets can impact the amount of rail traffic on rail mainlines, presenting challenges to state and local planners faced with making investment decisions about at-grade rail crossing improvements. This situation is particularly acute along urban rail corridors experiencing significant increases in train traffic or where the operating speed or train length has increased.

The traditional approach for making grade-crossing investment decisions has been guided primarily by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration Railroad–Highway Grade Crossing Handbook, which focuses heavily on traffic and safety factors. While safety continues to be a high priority in the development of road–rail grade separation projects, state and local decision makers need more robust criteria when competing against other projects for funding and construction.

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